UND football fall camp Day 5: Running back workload up for grabs
With the departure of former All-American Otis Weah, UND's running backs are fighting for playing time during fall camp.
GRAND FORKS — The competition to replace former UND All-American Otis Weah's running back workload is wide open.
UND backs Isaiah Smith, Luke Skokna, Tyler Hoosman and Gaven Ziebarth are all vying for the starting spot, although coaches say it's likely going to be by-committee until someone's play demands more carries.
Through five practices of fall camp, UND has practiced in full pads twice, so much of the evaluation period for the running backs lies ahead.
Smith, a sophomore from Minneapolis, likely has a leg up on the rest of the group as he was a Missouri Valley Football Conference All-Newcomer last year.
He appeared in eight games with one start, finishing with 356 yards on 52 carries.
Smith had 125 rushing yards on 12 carries against Drake, then impressed with 17 carries for 111 yards and a touchdown at Southern Illinois as Weah missed the SIU game.
Skokna, a 5-9, 175-pound senior, has the most experience in the group but is utilized in different ways than the others. He caught 27 passes for 183 yards last year to go along with 221 rushing yards on 35 attempts. He's also one of UND's top kick return options.
Although new to Grand Forks, Hoosman has four seasons of Division I football under his belt at Northern Iowa. He saw limited action for UNI last season but during the pandemic-shortened 2021 spring, Hoosman played in six games and led the Panthers with 373 yards and a team-high six rushing touchdowns.
Ziebarth maintained his freshman redshirt in 2021 by playing in just three games, but he was able to flash some of his promise in that limited action.
Ziebarth had 116 rushing yards on 16 carries. He ran for more than 100 against Western Illinois. Ziebarth scored the game-winning touchdown against Illinois State, too, with a 3-yard touchdown catch in the 14-7 win.
Day 5 notes
The scene: UND practiced indoors at the Pollard Center for the first time this fall. They went from 8:45 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
Play of the day: Wide receiver Elijah Klein dominated the end-of-practice 11-on-11 with two back-shoulder type catches on well-placed lobs from Tommy Schuster.
Looking good: Schuster was efficient in his Monday reps. He connected with Elijah Klein and Bo Belquist during 11-on-11 work which simulated a late-game drive and ended with a Brady Stevens 35-yard field goal between the uprights.
- Schuster also showed off some running ability, which coaches have hoped he utilizes a little more. On a C.J. Siegel corner blitz during 11-on-11 work, Schuster scrambled for about a 10-yard pickup.
- Richard Agyekum had a pair of tough pass breakups, including a Simon Romfo pass intended for the much taller Elijah Klein and a Quincy Vaughn ball intended for fellow Canadian Nate Demontagnac.
- Wyatt Pedigo, Luke Lennon and Paine Parks were disruptive during work on inside runs/play-action.
- Garett Maag had a nice practice, grabbing one deep ball on his finger tips from Schuster and catching two more from Quincy Vaughn.
- Caden Dennis built off an impressive Saturday practice when the true freshman wide receiver caught a slant in traffic from Tommy Schuster.
- Simon Romfo's drive late in practice started strong with a completion to Nick Kupfer, followed by a long Romfo keeper. His final play was a deep bomb to Marcus Preston, who drew what would have been defensive pass interference on Richard Agyekum.